More than 100 businesspeople attended the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's third annual Global Conference on Friday.

Anyone from Ashland who comes to Guanajuato, Mexico to open a business will immediately have the support of locals, because of the strong bond between the two sister cities.

That's what Karen Burnstein Valadez, who owns Guanajuato's oldest restaurant, told a crowd of 100 at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's third annual Global Conference on Friday.

"Every person in Ashland who goes there, they will have a friend," she said. "We will get them connected with the Chamber of Commerce and help them."

Valadez was one of three panelists who, during an afternoon discussion, answered questions about conducting business in Mexico, the topic of Friday's conference.

Southern Oregon University business professor Dennis Slattery served as a facilitator for the panel, which also included Bryan Peterson, vice president of Wells Fargo Foreign Exchange Services, and Matthew McCartney, who recently received his master's in business administration from SOU.

The first step to starting a business in Mexico is to get to know the country and its people, said McCartney, who owns Grupo Granton Marketing in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his wife and two children live.

"It's really simple. If anybody went to Mexico and they asked, 'Where do I get this?' or 'How do I do this?' and it wasn't available in Mexico, there could be an opportunity there. They'd have to find out why it's not there and ask, 'What do I have to do to get it there?'" he said.

McCartney came up with about a dozen concepts for businesses while he was living and working in Mexico, but he didn't know how to propel them into actual companies, so he decided to attend SOU's business master's program. Now that he's completed the 18-month-program, the California-native is headed straight back to Mexico to start a new business — or two.

That sort of initiative could pay off big, Peterson said. Although the U.S. recession has impacted Mexico, the country's economy is strong, he said.

"Fundamentally, Mexico is quite healthy and there are a lot of reasons to invest there," he said.

The country has not had a mortgage crisis because lending practices are stricter there. In order to purchase a home, Mexicans typically must have all the cash up-front or at least be able to put down a substantial down-payment, Peterson said.

Ashlanders who are looking to expand their businesses to other countries might be wise to start with Mexico, he said.

"I think Mexico is a very logical spot to begin doing business internationally from this location," he said.

About 20 people in the audience raised their hands when Peterson asked who already did business with Mexico.

Before starting a company in Mexico — or expanding a U.S. company there — it's important to learn about the cultural differences between the two countries, McCartney said.

Mexican people value family, staying in the present and living a stress-free lifestyle, so business interactions should take those values into account, he said.

When planning to open a business in Mexico, it's also important to find people to trust — especially locals, Valadez said.

Although there are some cultural differences between Mexico and the U.S., the two countries share many similarities, Slattery said.

"When we go to these conferences, we focus on our differences, but the reality is, we're really quite similar," he said. "We are really more similar than we are different."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.